Friday, October 30, 2020

Michael Malice: Democracy is Always Elitism

What Robert Michels brings to the table is what he calls “the Iron Law of Oligarchy.” In the same way that many argue that communism “works in theory but not in practice,” Michels claims that it is democracy that doesn’t work in practice. In fact, as he frames it, it might be one of the few things that doesn’t even work in theory. Meaning, it is impossible to even imagine a scenario where democracy works as democracy.

The claim of democracy and even our representative democracy is that as more people participate, the more inclusive it becomes, and the more legitimate the outcome is. The greater the voter turnout, the better. These are two separate claims, however, that are often equated. Increased voter participation rates might certainly be a good thing, but there is no point past which the system can be regarded as legitimate. It’s either legitimate for the 60 percent who voted to speak for the other 40 percent of the population or it is not. It is either legitimate for the 35 percent of people who voted to speak for the 65 percent of non-voters or it is not.

Breaking this down, we see a very common left-wing technique, one used by other political groups as well. First, posit an unworkable ideal (in this case, 100 percent democratic participation). Next, convince others that it is in fact an ideal, and then acknowledge that said ideal is impracticable. Finally, redefine the ideal as a mere goal and claim that progress toward that goal is therefore good. This is all based on the assumption that morality is a continuum as opposed to a binary proposition—both of which are plausible positions to take. Reductio ad absurdum, one can say that never killing anyone is an impracticable ideal and therefore someone is still a good person if they’re not murdering 99 percent of the time—or if their rate of murdering others has been decreasing, hence “progress.”

Some would argue that a majority has the right to speak for the minority, that once voter participation reaches 50 percent, then the outcome can be considered legitimate. And here is precisely Michels’s principle put into action: even theoretically, in a democracy someone is setting the guidelines for everyone else. Elitist rule is inevitable.

The purest example of democracy is the town hall. Of course, everyone speaking at once would make for a pointless cacophony. If they took turns, everyone saying whatever they wanted to about everything that they cared about would be interminable. So even in this most democratic of settings, someone must necessarily set the agenda for what is being discussed, who can speak at a given time, and how the questions are to be framed. An entity that sets the agenda for discussion, recognizes individual speakers, and frames questions for everyone else is an elite.

--Michael Malice, The New Right